Marina Tsvetaeva translated by Mary Jane White



The poet—wanders a roundabout way to speech.
The poet—wanders into the distance by speech.

By planets, by constellations, by a roundabout
Parable’s beaten paths . . . Between yes and no
He swings his arm like a pendulum from a bell tower
To indicate a detour . . . Because the orbits of comets—

Are the poet’s orbit. Broken links
Of causality—make his connection! Looking up—
You despair! The poet’s eclipses
Arrive unpredicted by the calendar.

He is the one who cuts the cards,
Cheats on weights and measures,
He is the one who asks in school,
And beats Kant about the head and shoulders,

Who consigned to a stony grave in the Bastille
Seems to be a tree in all its glory.
The one, whose trail—always grows cold,
The train, that everyone
Misses . . .
                 because the orbit of comets

Is the poet’s orbit: seeming to burn, without warmth,
To reap without having planted—an explosion expanding
Your path, long-haired and elliptical,
Arrives unpredicted by the calendar!

8 April 1923


In this world there are the superfluous, the accessory,
Uninscribed upon any eye.
(Omitted from your canon,
For them, the dump—is where they come to rest).

In this world there are the hollow, the rattled,
The ones who stand mute—the shit,
The nail who snags your silken him!
Mud gone squeamish under the wheel!

In this world there are the pretenders, the invisible:
(Marked: with a leper’s spots!)
In this world there are Jobs who
Might envy Job perhaps—were we:

Not poets—but coupled with pariahs,
Who having taken the field and flooded the banks
Contend now with all the goddesses for the god,
And with all the gods for the virgin!

22 April 1923


What should I do, who am blind and a stepchild,
In this world, where each has a father and sees,
Where as anathemas, along the embankments—
Passions run! where a head-cold is
How I excuse—my weeping!

What should I do, who am by rib and by trade
A chorister!—like a line! a sunburn! Siberia!
Pursuing delusions of my own—as if crossing a bridge!
With their weightlessness
In this world of weights.

What should I do, who am a singer and firstborn,
In this world, where the darkest goes—grey!
Where inspiration is bottled, in a flask!
With my excess
In this world of measures?!

22 April 1923

tsvetaevaMarina Tsvetaeva (1982-1941), admired by Joseph Brodsky: “Well, if you are talking about the twentieth century, I’ll give you a list of poets. Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva (and she is the greatest one, in my view. The greatest poet in the twentieth century was a woman).”

whiteMary Jane White, MFA Iowa Writers’ Workshop, NEA Fellowships (in poetry and translation). Tsvetaeva translations: Starry Sky to Starry Sky (1988); New Year’s, an elegy for Rilke (Adastra Press, ed. Gary Metras); Poem of the Hill (The New England Review); Poem of the End (The Hudson Review), reprinted in Poets Translate Poets, (Syracuse 2013).